Short of breath? Could it be asthma? Or maybe it’s just another cold? Whatever it is, you seem to be wheezing all over the place. Even walking up the stairs at home has become a struggle.
Although not as common as most other symptoms, a small number of women do experience breathing difficulties in the menopause. It’s a symptom that can crop up in different forms.
Some women feel more short of breath than they usually would, while others experience reduced exercise tolerance and fatigue. Some may not notice a difference until a healthcare professional checks their lung function.
The menopause can also impact a pre-existing lung condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive airway disease, which may worsen. So it’s important to seek help and advice from a medical professional, especially if you’re experiencing warning signs - like wheezing, coughing, coughing up blood, chest pains, dizziness or palpitations.
While doctors still don’t completely understand why breaking difficulties happen during the menopause, a drop in oestrogen can affect inflammation in the body, which could interfere with lung function.
Many women experience anxiety during the menopause. A physical symptom of anxiety is shortness of breath, so this could also be a factor.
If your breathing difficulties are acute and severe, please seek emergency care by calling 999.
If your breathing difficulties have been diagnosed as a result of the menopause, we’ve put together some simple tips to help you on your way to breathing more freely.
STAY FIT AND ACTIVE
Grab your running shoes, fill up your water bottle and hit the gym. Because staying active and looking after yourself is vital, both in life and menopause. We recommend finding an activity that you love, so exercise doesn’t become another chore on your to-do list.
As well as reducing breathing difficulties, it will also reduce your risk of cancer – a win/win in our eyes! For help quitting, the NHS is a great place to start.
Probably not the top tip you were expecting, but the truth is that singing is a joyous activity and a great way to improve your lung function.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY (HRT)
While more studies are needed to find out if HRT can help reverse the changes to the lungs, HRT can be very effective in treating other symptoms of the menopause.
HINTS AND TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT SOMEONE THEY THINK MAY BE ENTERING OR IN MENOPAUSE
Breathing difficulties can be a terrifying experience for them – and it can be hard to know what to do, especially in the middle of an asthma attack.
Take these suggestions on board, so you feel more equipped to help.
OUR ADVICE TO THEM
We’ve recommended that they stay fit and active, quits smoking and practices singing to improve their lung function
ENCOURAGE THEM TO SPEAK TO A DOCTOR
If their breathing difficulties are persistent or seem to be getting worse, gently encourage them to speak to a GP. You could even offer to go to the appointment with them to show your support.
If they are severely short of breath or develop anaphylactic shock (where their airways are obstructed) then call an ambulance.
CREATE BREATHING SPACE
No, we’re not saying leave them alone. We mean actually breathe together.
Slow, deep breaths initiate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is designed to calm us down. Taking time together to practice this means she’s more likely to naturally practice deep and beneficial breathing.
Yoga and meditation are both great, and there are loads of ‘how-to’ videos online and mindfulness apps, which mean you can practice together from the comfort of your living room.
STUB OUT SMOKING
Did you know that if you decide to quit together you are almost six times more likely* to kick nicotine than going it alone?
Help them say goodbye to cigarettes forever by ditching the smokes too. You can then keep each other going, avoid temptation and bash those cravings on the nose.
*Research by the Imperial College London
Regular exercise is a key tool for boosting self-confidence during the menopause. Combining something you want to do (spend time together) with something you should do (exercise) can be a real game-changer.
Partnering up to go for a walk, swim or to the gym is also more likely to help you both stay motivated and keep your fitness in check.
If you’re worried about breathing difficulties, you should see your GP who can discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause.
If you'd like more information, we have put some further references below for you: